- Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
- Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
- Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
- Willow's magic is utterly useless (this one won't be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
- Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
- The show isn't as feminist as people claim.
- All the monsters look like wieners.
- If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
- Angel is a dick.
- Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
WARNING: Some people have mentioned they're watching along with me, and that's awesome, but I've seen the entire series already and I'll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So... you know, take that under consideration, if you're a person who can't enjoy something if you know future details about it.
So, before we begin the recap of "Teacher's Pet," we need to talk about something I found on YouTube:
I'm sorry I did this to you, and I hope we can still be friends.
"Teacher's Pet" opens at The Bronze, where Buffy is strangely helpless against a vampire she can't defeat. If this sounds confusing, that's because it's part of Xander's nice guy day dream. He slays the vampire, then leaves Buffy to swoon at his feet as he climbs on stage to play guitar for the admiring crowd.
The fact that he has John Mayer-esque guitar face does nothing to dispel his "Nice Guy" image.
This is going to be a running theme throughout the entire show. None of the men in Buffy's life can deal with the fact that she doesn't need them to save her. Well, none of the men in her life except one, but we'll talk about that later. It's like they can't fathom being in a relationship where their defined role isn't "strong Alpha protector man." It's not enough for Xander to day dream about wowing Buffy with his guitar skills, he has to be able to slay vampires better than she does, too. The only way Xander can imagine a world where he and Buffy can have a romantic relationship is if he fantasizes about a world in which Buffy has no skill at all. She can't fight vampires, she can barely speak in his presence. It's a testament to both Xander's insecurity and culturally conditioned misogyny that Buffy is made more desirable to him if she is weak and dependent. #6
But luckily, this show doesn't take place in his daydream, and Buffy tells him he's drooling.
They're in science class. Not the same science class from the last episode. This seems to be a different science lab. I think you can really tell what classes the writers of this show enjoyed in high school, because these kids seem like they're only ever in English or science classes, and Sunnydale has like a thousand different science labs.
Anyway, the teacher turns off his slideshow about ants and asks Buffy a question. She clearly does not know the answer. She looks to her friends for help:
So, Xander has never been portrayed as a real studious dude. I get that. I wasn't good at school either. But he doesn't even look interested in Buffy's dilema here. Willow is the one who tries to silently communicate the answer to Buffy, while Xander probably goes back to his guitar hero daydream. Here is his chance to actually rescue Buffy, to help her out and make her see him in a different light. But he's not interested. Because it's not exactly how he's envisioned being her hero, so it doesn't fulfill his masculine fantasies of saving her. #5, #6
Then a jock makes a crack about Xander having BO, and class dismisses, but not before the science teacher asks Buffy to stay after. He tells her that Principal Flutie shared Buffy's permanent record. The science teacher? Thinks it's all bullshit. He tells Buffy he's not interested in her excuses because he can tell she's a smart girl who will do great things at Sunnydale. He tells her:
"Don't be sorry. Be smart."It is literally the most encouragement she's gotten from an adult in the entire series so far, so obviously the teacher is brutally decapitated by a monster the moment Buffy leaves the science lab:
Public school teachers really don't get paid enough.
The opening credits roll, and then we're at The Bronze. Xander is wandering around. He walks past these two douches, who are bragging about how much sex they've had:
I've never understood why this is such a huge bragging point for guys. "Someone thought I wasn't totally repulsive, and then she let me stick my penis in her! Isn't that amazing?" No, it's not. It's kind of sad, actually. What's even more sad is that while young men apparently define themselves by how many women they've been with, we tell young women to lie about how many men they've been with. Why should women lie about how much sex they've had in the past? So they can get a man, who defines his self worth by how much sex he's had in the past. How does that make any sense?
Xander tries to call the guy in the yellow sweater on his bullshit "I nailed this chick and almost her sister from college, too!" story, but then both guys immediately jump on Xander, demanding proof of his past conquests. And rather than say, "No, you guys are fucking gross," he asks whether they want to know how many times he's gotten laid today rather than overall. Then he spots Buffy and Willow and insinuates he's fucking them.
He's saying this about his friends. HIS ONLY FRIENDS.
Worse, he then goes up to Buffy and Willow and puts his arms around them, saying:
"Work with me here. Blaine had the nerve to question my manliness, I'm just gonna give him a visual."Then he does this:
So, I know a lot of you are really attached to this show, and you feel like I unfairly shred it in these recaps. Believe me when I say that at the end of the day, Buffy is still one of my top five favorite shows, forever and always. But I started doing these recaps after I challenged other bloggers to write about problematic themes in works that they love. I can't really cheap out and start offering excuses for character behavior, like "well, he's a teenage boy," because that would be a cop out. I wouldn't accept someone making excuses for other problematic themes in stuff they like ("But it's not abuse, Christian Grey really loves her!"), so I can't do that here.
Also, I want to point out that however realistically written the character of Xander might be, he's still a written character. Someone had to sit down and plan all this shit out. And hey, believe me, I know how hard it can be to separate yourself from cultural expectation and institutionalized -isms when you're writing something. After all, I did write a four book series in which the only black character was a butler. WTF was I thinking? I wasn't, and that was the problem. I was writing long-standing, damaging tropes. That's what the writers did here. They wanted to write a believable teenage boy character... but they apparently thought the only way that was possible was to turn him into a sleazy dick monster. And when he delivers the above line, Willow and Buffy go along with him, because obviously, the right thing for a woman to do in this situation is to objectify herself to defend the maligned male's masculinity. (#6)
So before anyone says, "But he's a teenage boy! What did you expect him to do?" I want to just gently suggest that it's not Xander's fault he's #5. It's the writers' fault. There was no reason he couldn't have come up with a snarky jab at the two douchebags' obvious lies and insecurity, and walked away the more mature person and a better example to young men watching the show.
This all kind of gets glossed over, though, at the appearance of Angel. Willow and Xander figure out who he is as Buffy walks over to talk to him. After just one look, Xander is not a fan. He doesn't like that Buffy has never told them Angel is attractive. Now that Xander can see that Angel isn't bad looking, he's threatened, and angry with Buffy for not informing him of the competition. #5
Angel says Buffy looks cold, and gives her his jacket. He doesn't ask if she's cold, he just tells her she is, and gives her the jacket. This reveals a long wound down his arm, and Buffy surmises this was done with a big fork. Angel doesn't exactly deny it, just telling Buffy not to get cornered by the fork wielder. Then he disappears into the night, and we cut to Sunnydale high, the next day, where Buffy is still wearing the jacket and walking to school with that male faculty member she's always hanging around:
She is walking to school, in the company of a male faculty member, wearing an adult man's jacket. Nobody knows about Angel, remember, so for all they know, that's Giles's coat. No one? Not one person is going to think this raises some kind of... no? Okay. Fine, whatever, Sunnydale. #8
Buffy and Giles are talking about Angel's warning:
Buffy: "That's all cryptic guy said, fork guy."
Giles: "I think there are too many guys in your life."Then he laughs off his own remark. Because #2.
After Giles complains about how SUNNY it is in SUNNYdale (come on, bro, it's in the name, you had to be somewhat prepared for this), he leaves, and Xander comes up to tell Buffy and Willow that the science teacher is out for the day. Actually, they said he was missing, but Xander admits to being distracted by cheerleaders in short skirts when he heard the whole story. He is totally not concerned with the idea of a missing person in Sunnydale, which he now knows is populated with oogly booglies. Because he grew up in Sunnydale, and #8.
To his credit, Xander does apologize for being so callous when Willow points out that the science teacher is the only member of the Sunnydale high faculty who doesn't think Buffy is a total fuck up. But all that gets somewhat tossed aside when Xander sees the new substitute:
And then he's all:
And then I'm like:
Hey, this series has a really dim view of sports, doesn't it? We never see anyone on Buffy competing in a sport in a positive way, do we? We see the witch cheerleader, the Frankenstein football player, bodies fall out of lockers in the locker rooms... HEY! This show is anti-sport! We have a #11!
On her way into the science lab, Buffy finds the old science teacher's broken glasses lying on the floor. Remember now, this is a missing person case. The last place this guy was seen was in this classroom. No one thought to come there to look for him? And when they did, they didn't see these glasses on the floor? They are quite literally two steps inside the door. Are people just not seeing them? Or is this the kind of world we're living in (sixteen years ago), that people won't pick up a pair of glasses someone dropped on the floor? I guess the economy was so good during the Clinton years that eyeglasses were free or some shit.
We're about to get to the part where I tell you why this is one of my least favorite episodes of Buffy. You know how when you're watching something, and the show is making you think that a certain thing is going to happen, or a certain character is evil, and it's so telegraphed that you know for sure that it's a red herring? This is not like that. The big plot "twist" is so obvious that it's infuriating. You know from the moment Miss French arrives that, oh, hey, the new substitute is the villain, and she's probably the big bug monster thing that decapitated the science teacher.
Let's examine the facts about Ms. French:
- FACT: She is a substitute teacher none of the kids have ever seen before.
- FACT: She gets super passionate on the subject of mantises.
- FACT: Her eyeshadow is yellow and green (bug colors), and it is fierce.
So, yeah, Ms. (I am not calling her "miss" again) French goes all religious fervor on the kids on the subject of mantises, then asks them to help her make model egg sacs after school. And no one goes, "Huh. This lady kind of sounds like she might be a mantis." #8.
That's going to be the big surprise twist, people. Ms. French, the substitute who's into bugs in what sounds like an unhealthy way is actually a bug, herself. And no, it's not like the Scoobies arrive at this conclusion and find out they were wrong, it's this totally unrelated thing. No. This is exactly how it's going down. Which might have been okay, were it a more interesting story, but "giant bug person" is pretty much a tapped out subgenre in horror, isn't it?
In the lunch line, Buffy, Willow and Xander are not talking about the fact that their new sub is obviously a bug lady. Xander is too busy trying to figure out what it is about him that makes him so appealing to Ms. Buglady. The fact that she's a giant insect who wants to mate with you and eat your head has nothing to do with it, Xander, no matter how obvious it might be to the casual outside observer.
Buffy and Willow respond, disappointingly, by suggesting that Ms. French has "surgical improvements." (#6) Then D-Blaine comes in and suggests he's going to bone the new teacher before Xander gets a chance to. Then Cordelia finds the old science teacher's body in a lunch room freezer. Just the body, though. Not the head.
Does it sound like I'm bored with the plot of this one? I am, and that's why I like this series so much. Look, on the surface, from any other show, say... The X-Files, this would be a perfectly awesome episode for the first season, right? But on Buffy it's disappointing, because the good episodes are so good, they make so-so episodes seem like the worst thing you've ever seen on television. That's a testament to how good this show is, but also an important thing to remember in writing: you have to constantly raise the bar against what you've already done. For this to be the fourth episode, after the first three were so good, it's a stumble.
Back at the library, Giles consoles the three shaken Scoobies. Okay, no, he actually only consoles Buffy:
Seriously, Willow is right there, and she looks like she wants that glass of water real, real bad. But Giles's only concern is for Buffy. Yeah, she's his slayer, I get that. But come on. There are two other traumatized kids right there. Giles has manners, y'all, why didn't he think to give the other two some water? BECAUSE #2. And if it's his blossoming fatherly devotion for Buffy, why doesn't it extend to the other two, who have spent arguably as much time with him as Buffy has? The magical slayer-watcher bond? Slayers lose their watchers at a pretty strong rate as the series goes on. Watchers seem to be fairly interchangeable. Certain watchers even fuck up big time and get fired and replaced by the council. So don't give me none of that "watcher bond" bullshit. I think that's a fanon concept.
Giles hypothesizes that the vampire with the fork for a hand might have been the one who attacked the science teacher, but Buffy isn't convinced. Giles makes Buffy promise him that she won't make a move on this whole fork-hand-guy until they have more information. So of course, in the very next scene, there's Buffy, going after fork-hand-vampire.
At first, it seems like all Buffy is going to find is Drunken Dan The Creepy Rapist Hobo, but then Edward Forkenhand gets the drop on her. They fight, until the local law enforcement show up, and Eddie abandons his fight with the slayer to run. But he can't resist the vulnerable female walking down the sidewalk, who turns out to be Ms. French. The vampire runs up on her. She gives him a benign, assertive gaze, and he runs out of there like he's seen a g-g-g-ghost. And Buffy is like:
So, she knows something is up, right away. But she still doesn't know what.
At the library the next day, Buffy and Giles fight like a divorcing couple who are too tired of each other to really be angry anymore. Giles is pissed that Buffy lied to him about going out to "hunt" (that word is going to become controversial in season 5, just you wait) but he's immediately remorseful when she tells him she ran into the fork guy. She asks him if he knows who Ms. French is, and he's all:
"Yes, yes, she's lovely. In a common, extremely well-proportioned way."
He's trying to cover up the fact he clearly thinks the sub is hot. That's adorable.
Buffy tells him about the weird thing she saw with Ms. French and the fork hand guy, and they agree something is up with the teacher. But this isn't an exciting moment for us, because we already know the answer to the riddle. It's been super obvious from the beginning. The audience already knows that the hot substitute teacher who is bizarrely enthusiastic about insects is a bug lady. We know this, because we saw her giant, bug-lady hand killing the science teacher. We know this because "the female of the species is more deadly than the male" is one of the most tired tropes in all of fiction. Even sixteen years ago. Now, we're just wondering why these normally smart characters are so oblivious to the giant freaking clues they're being spoonfed by the writers.
On her way to biology, Buffy is intercepted by Principal Flutie, who wants her to see a counselor to cope with the tragedy of seeing the science teacher's decapitated body. He also says something about the school frowning on adults touching the kids, which is hilarious because I don't think the school would even notice. Cordelia is already in with the therapist, coping with her tragedy. She reframes finding a corpse as a good way to lose weight. I guess we all do what we have to do in order to deal with shit on the Hellmouth, Cordy. Shine on you, shallow diamond.
In biology class, the kids are taking a test. And remember how Flutie was all, "no touching" in the scene before? Here's further proof that this shit goes unchecked at Sunnydale high (besides the fact that literally every aspect of Buffy's relationship with Giles should be super inappropriate to an outside observer?):
There are other kids in the class, and they're probably all seeing Ms. French touch Xander, give him the answer to the test, and tell him to meet her after school. I would usually say, "Oh, well, obviously people aren't concerned because she's a female teacher and people assume all boys would be fine with being preyed upon by their hot female teacher," but in this case, it's really just because the people who live in the universe of the show have never heard of sexual molestation.
That would be an awesome universe to live in. Best show ever.
Buffy gets back to class, sees there's a pop quiz, and then, oh yeah, she spots this:
Good for Ms. French everyone else in class is too distracted her head turning around The Exorcist style. That says a lot for academic ethics at Sunnydale (at least, under the reign of Principal Flutie), because it means no one is guiltily keeping an eye on the teacher while they cheat.
Buffy tells Willow and Giles about the buglady teacher's head turning all the way around. Giles mentions there are some insects that can turn their heads that way. Buffy remembers that Blainebag wasn't at school today, after having stayed after to meet with Ms. French. So, let's total this up at home, guys:
- Teacher is found decapitated, head is never found.
- Substitute shows up. Wears lots of green.
- Substitute talks about mantises the way other women talk about Joe Manganiello.
- Substitute asks for volunteers to help her make mantis egg sacs.
- Substitute focuses her attention on the young male population of Sunnydale.
- Young male student is suspiciously absent.
- Substitute can turn her head all the way around.
NO ONE MAKES THE MANTIS CONNECTION AT THIS POINT, EXCEPT THE AUDIENCE.
Remember how in "Witch" I was like, "make sure your audience can make the connection about the plot point before the characters do? I meant by like, a little bit. A line or two. Maybe a scene. But not the whole freaking episode, people. That's too long!
Xander meets Ms. French after school. She's making a sandwich next to her replica egg sac. That just seems unhygienic. Xander comments that if the egg sac was really the size of the one on her desk, the bugs would be as big as him. Well, he starts the comment, Ms. French finishes it while she makes her sandwich. She puts on a breathy seductress voice and tells him that she's stupidly left all her egg sac supplies at home. Could he come to her house later that night? Of course he can! He practically shouts, "Sign me up for the murder wagon!" right before he jumps on the back. Of the murder wagon.
Shut up, it's the time change.
Anyway, then he leaves, and Ms. French finishes making herself a sandwich of live crickets, which is totally icky because I'm pretty sure she used Miracle Whip instead of Mayo. Gross.
Back at the library, Buffy tries to convince Willow and Giles that Ms. French is a preying mantis. Which, by the way, is a conclusion she arrived to from studying a book on bugs and not all the clues the writers have laid out for her on a long dining table "Be Our Guest"-style or anything. Giles remembers a guy he knew once who specialized in stories of fairytale bug monsters. Remember, Giles is the mentor character here, and he's suggesting the teacher could be a bug monster, but they haven't arrived at any conclusions yet.
Is this maddening enough for you? Well, consider, if you will, the reasons Buffy believes the substitute to be a bug monster:
"Factoid one: only the praying mantis can rotate its head like that. Factoid two: a pretty whacked-out vampire is scared to death of her. Factoid three: her fashion sense screams predator."First of all, Buffy, I already did the "fact" thing up there. Stop stealing my lines sixteen years ago. Second, those aren't even the most obvious reasons. The most obvious reason she's a mantis is that she's MAKING EGG SACS AND SOMEBODY'S HEAD IS GONE. They find out that Blaine's mom has called the police over his disappearance. Buffy tells Willow to check the coroner's autopsy report on the science teacher. I guess Sunnydale is so used to violent crime that their coroner's office is like an assembly line or something. Not that the science teacher's autopsy would be that difficult. "Cause of death: head is fucking gone."
Giles goes to call his colleague, the bug man, but first he asks the girls if their computer search of the coroner's files is legal. They assure him it is, but he tells them:
"Right. Wasn't here, didn't see it, couldn't have stopped you."Now you're getting it, dude.
Buffy hunts down Xander and warns him about Ms. French being a bug lady, but Xander isn't hearing any of it. He accuses Buffy of being jealous because he's not into her anymore. Normally, I would say this is proof of #5, but Buffy explains that Xander is under the influence of pheromones that the buglady is making to mess with him, so I'll give him a pass.
Over at maison du mantis, Ms. French is preparing cocktails and is about to answer the door looking like this:
Has this woman never been around a teenage boy before? Seriously? If she wants to mate with him, she's going to miss her chance the second he sees her cleavage in that dress. He's going to, well... see video I posted previously.
Now, because of the pheromone, and because he's a teen boy and has the ego of a teen boy, Xander doesn't find anything odd about the fact that this teacher is all over him. He just figures he's about to get super lucky when he drains his martini and she starts asking him if he's a virgin. He admits that he is, but then starts talking about how much he loves Buffy. He hears screaming from another part of the house, but Ms. French keeps him distracted by telling him to touch her. When he tries to, she transforms into a giant bug, and he says my favorite line of the entire episode:
"Your hands are really... serrated."
Oh Xander, how you do turn a buglady's head.
Xander decides he's way too drunk and tries to get up, but falls unconscious, probably because Ms. French roofied his drink or whatever. We see her bug hands dragging Xander off, and then there's a commercial break blackout before we rejoin Xander in a cage in bug lady's basement. Bug lady is in full mantis form, but she can still talk, which freaks Xander right out.
At the library, Giles is on the angry phone and Buffy and Willow are illegally accessing the coroner's report on their dead science teacher. All the information they're gathering is confirmation of the bug lady theory that every viewer had worked out from the very beginning of the episode. It's not subtle. It should come as a surprise to no one that this episode was written by David Greenwalt, who cowrote the similarly heavy-handed foreshadowing of season 2's "Ted."
Buffy tells Willow that they know Xander isn't in any immediate danger, since they saw him leave the school. Scene change, back to Ms. French's subterranean sex dungeon. Blaine and Xander are cage neighbors, and Blaine explains that Ms. French is going to mate with them and bite their heads off while she does it.
Back at the angry phone, Giles hangs up with his friend from a mental hospital, who has told him all about the "she-mantis" or "virgin thief," a mantis creature who has much in common with other mythologies blah blah blah. Buffy says Xander will probably be okay, because it's only after virgins. No one else has her confidence in Xander's game, though, so Giles tells her to hack the substitute teacher apart with a sharp blade. Buffy tells Giles to record bat sonar. Bats eat mantises, and Buffy hopes she can use the recording as a weapon. That's actually pretty smart, and the only unexpected part of the plot so far.
There's also more inappropriate adult/student closeness in this scene, as Buffy and Giles walk with her arm through his. So now they're in the library after hours, walking all snuggly?
In the buglady's basement, Xander pries a cage bar loose to use as a weapon, then we flash back to the library, where Willow has found Ms. French's address. Oh, and also the small detail that she's ninety years old. Nobody thought that was odd when they hired her and she filled out her personel record?
As Ms. French the mantis goes after Xander, the gang pulls up outside of a house. They run up to the door and Buffy is about to kick it in when it opens to reveal the real Ms. French, a kindly old lady who just got her identity stolen. So, the gang is not about arrive to Xander's rescue, and Ms. Mantis is going to straight up eat Xander.
Xander valiantly tries to fight off the mantis lady while Buffy captures the fork-handed vampire and uses him as a buglady detector. They use the fork vampire to get to Ms. French's - the fake Ms. French's - house, where Buffy unleashes her secret weapon:
"Remember Dr. Gregory? You scarfed his head? Yeah, well, he taught me, you do your homework, you learn stuff. Like what happens to your nervous system when you hear this - "And then she hits the button on the tape recorder and it's Giles's voice babbling about the importance of alphabetical filing. And Buffy is all:
Luckily, it's just that the tape recorder is playing the wrong side. Listen children, and gather all around. Once, a long time ago, there were these things called tape recorders. You put cassettes in them, and depending on which way you put them into the machine, a different recording would play. I know, it sounds super primitive even as I type it, but this was what we had to deal with back then.
The mantis knocks the tape recorder across the room, and Buffy battles the bug lady while Giles grabs the recorder and plays the bat noises. The sound of bats renders the mantis unable to move or defend itself, and Buffy is able to easily hack it into pieces. Which seems like a stupid thing to hang on to, from an evolutionary standpoint. "This creature that eats me is making sound nearby? I better become useless immediately." That seems like a good way for a species to definitely not thrive.
After the mantis is dead, Buffy, Willow and Giles explain to the two guys who were just almost eaten that the "she-mantis" only preys on virgins. Rather than expressing gratitude to Buffy for saving his damn life, Blaine warns the four of them that his dad is a lawyer, and if they tell anyone he's a virgin, he'll sue them. I'm not sure you can sue someone for saying something that's true, Blaine, but whatever. I wish the substitute mantis lady had eaten you.
At The Bronze, Buffy is sitting by herself, wearing Angel's jacket, when Angel shows up and congratulates her on her smooth handling of fork-hand guy. Then he tells her to keep his jacket because it looks better on her. And then he walks away, into the crowd, all mysterious like.
Back at Sunnydale high, the new science teacher is kind of a strict dude, and Buffy is super bummed. She finds the old science teacher's glasses and sadly goes to put them in the pocket of his jacket, which is hanging on the door to the supply closet or whatever. Really? No one thought to remove the guy's personal belongings? Maybe if they had, they would have noticed this:
Which would be exciting if we ever saw the mantis people again. But we don't.
So, I hope I gave you a reasonable sense of why this episode is not my favorite, but before I wrap this one up, let's talk about #1. This episode is one of the biggest examples of sex being the real villain in the Buffy universe. Xander is preyed upon by the "she-mantis" because he hasn't fulfilled his male obligation of heterosexual sex. Ms. French specifically asks him if he's been with a woman before, insinuating that if sex isn't P-in-V, it doesn't count. Then there's the part where sex is what will kill him, but he still should want it. It's sending the clear message that sex will ultimately kill you, folks, and there's no way to avoid it.
Not to mention the fact that it's an attractive, sexually agressive female who will be wielding the death sex. So... #6 there. Guys, fear women. They only use sex to destroy you.